By Ryan LeGates
Every sport has that one position that is essential to a team’s success and progression. Most would agree that in football it’s the quarterback, in hockey and soccer it’s the goalie, and in baseball it’s pitching. In basketball, the most essential position to a team’s success is the point guard position. I am a little bias in saying this, being a former college point guard, but nonetheless I think the point guard position in college basketball is more important to a team’s success than any position in any sport.
The point guard is an extension of the coach on the court and is relied upon to keep all five players on the floor gelling as a centralized unit. The point guard sets up plays on the court, gets the ball to teammates in the best position to score, and controls the tempo of the game. They are relied upon to keep the team motivated on the court, while also keeping players disciplined off the court. It is the unwritten rule of basketball, the point guard is in charge and everyone follows his lead. The point guard will have the ball in his hands more throughout the season than any other person on the team. In the NCAA especially, it is absolutely crucial to a team’s success to have good guard play in order to make a run late in the season. To back my opinion, let’s look at the last 7 national championship teams and whom they had at point guard.
2014 Connecticut Huskies – A perfect example of my theory was in 2014 when the Huskies were a #7 seed and lacked the depth and talent of many teams ranking higher than them. This included surpassing an unbeaten Florida team in the Final 4. What the huskies did have was the 2014 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Shabazz Napier. Shabazz averaged 18 points 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game labeling himself as one of the best point guards in America. Shabazz was selected 24th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft and is now playing for the Miami Heat in the NBA.
2013 Louisville Cardinals – The Cardinals were one of the most talented teams in the nation in 2013 and were lead by a three-year starter, Peyton Siva, at point guard. Siva was selected as the preseason Big East player of the year and would go on to not only win the Big East tournament MVP but also became the 2nd player in Big East history to win that award twice. Siva was drafted in the 2nd round of the NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.
2012 Kentucky Wildcats – A Coach Cal team that was loaded with talent and was run by point guard Marquis Teague. Marquis, the younger brother of NBA star Jeff Teague, accomplished something his brother never could, leading his team to a National Championship as a freshman. Marquis didn’t necessarily have eye-popping numbers, as this team was loaded with NBA talent, but he was without a doubt the glue for the team at the point guard position. Teague was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bulls and last played for the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA.
2011 Connecticut Huskies – The 2011 Huskies were led by Kemba Walker, who was personally one of my favorite college point guards of all time. Kemba was known for his quick crossover and frequently left a wake of helpless defenders lying on the floor after attempting to guard him. Walker was a first team All-American who was also a finalist for national player of the year. He led the nation in scoring for more than half of the year and finished the year averaging 24 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals a game. Kemba was selected 9th overall by the Charlotte Bobcats and is still leaving defenders helpless in the NBA with his devastating crossover.
2010 Duke Blue Devils – The 2010 Blue Devils were guided by First-Team All ACC Defensive selection Nolan Smith. Smith was a 3rd year starter, including starting every game his senior year, and averaged 21 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game while becoming only the 9th player in history to average 20 or more points for the legendary Coach K. Smith was a first round draft pick selected 21st overall by the Portland Trail Blazers.
2009 North Carolina Tarheels – The 2009 Tarheels were led at point guard by ACC player of the year Ty Lawson. He was the first point guard to earn this honor in the ACC since 1978. Lawson was also a 2nd team All-American and averaged 17 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals as a Junior and was a 3-year starter. Lawson was selected in the first round as the 18th overall pick by the Denver Nuggets.
2008 Kansas Jay Hawks – If you can’t remember who played point guard for this team then you can’t call yourself a true college basketball fan. Mario Chalmers hit one of the most epic shots in NCAA tournament history (Known as the “Mario Miracle”) to lead his team to a National Championship. He was an NCAA All Defensive 1st team selection and averaged 13 points, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 rebounds a game while shooting a ridiculous 47% from 3-point range. Mario also set the Kansas school record for steals in a season with 97. Mario was drafted with the 34th overall pick in the NBA draft the following year and was the starting point guard on two NBA championship teams.
So given this notable history, let’s take a look at five of the top point guards in the nation this year in college basketball. The following guards are not ranked in order but all play for teams that could be contenders in March.
Marcus Paige (North Carolina Tar Heels) – Paige is now a Junior with high expectations after already starting in Chapel Hill for 2 years. As a sophomore, he averaged 18 points and 4 assists per game. Paige is the Preseason ACC Player of the Year and received the most votes of any player in the nation to be selected as a First Team All American.
Fred Vanvleet (Wichita State Shockers) – Vanvleet had a great sophomore season that helped lead the shockers to a perfect 31-0 regular season. As a sophomore Vanvleet was the MVC player of the year and a 2nd Team All American selection. This year he is a preseason First Team All American and looks to lead the shockers to another great season.
Tyus Jones (Duke Blue Devils) – Jones could be the 2nd best point guard Coach K has ever signed, behind Kyrie Irving. Jones is a 5-star recruit who was ranked the number 4 player in the nation by ESPN coming out of high school. He is one of the smoothest guards in the nation and gets the keys to one of the most talented teams in the nation.
Delon Wright (Utah Utes) – Even while being arguably the best kept secret in the NCAA, Delon may still have a familiar face as he is the brother of NBA player Dorell Wright. Delon averaged 16 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists last year. The 6-foot-5 point guard has athleticism that all the NBA scouts are drooling over. Wright won’t be a secret long and will bring Utah to receive national attention this year.
Aaron Harrison (Kentucky Wildcats) – “Mr. Big Shot” was known for coming up clutch last year with game winning shots while leading Kentucky to the National Championship game. Harrison decided to return as a sophomore and is the preseason SEC player of the year. He gets to run the show on one of the most talented teams in NCAA history.
Whether you agree that it is the most important position in Men’s CBB or not, it is undeniable that PG play in March is critical for the success of any team in the Tournament. With that being said, who do you think will have the biggest impact of the five we have listed above?